Saturday, March 20, 2010

This is actually a post of mine for a discussion forum, but I thought I might share it with you.

Taijiquan, it comes in so many flavors and colors.

How much of this is the superficial? How much of this is the internal?

Luchan displayed different forms than Chen style, though my understanding is that he was above average intelligence. However, and more to my point, the forms of lines of transmission that come from students of his, differ in each and every case to some degree or another. Thus we have today several so called "styles" that can be traced back to Yang Luchan through his sons or students.

It occurs to me that the expressiveness of the form work centers around the postures as a theme and that the forms as we know them in orthodoxy are questionable as to their veracity regarding historical authenticity and accuracy, particularly if personalizing and individually manifesting the form or techniques is an authentic transmission.

It seems that standardized forms are for group classes, allowing the class to have a line dance approach to form work, allowing potentially thousands to participate at once, although class sizes tend to be smaller.

But another method seems to be teacher to student transmissions that are of a one on one nature and are not made in a one size fits all manner. It seems that sometimes this type of one on one transmission took place and forms were altered or even created for a single student, who later teaches that form as a by the numbers piece to a large group of people. This approach is still difficult, so the form was modeled to be challenging enough to allow progressive benefits but easy enough to learn to do without years of special conditioning.

With the one on one approach, years of special conditioning is rather typical. However with the group approach this is not practical to do in the same detail and so a one size fits all approach becomes more ideal.
This group approach is public, ergo the very fitting title of public form.

However I was told that every time I lift my leg and step a certain way in the public form, that it hides or has or holds a kick, and I was also told that there are other simplified reduced moves in the public form. When I do a form and insert these kicks and motions in a more complete manner, two things stand out immediately, the first is that conditioning is required, the second is that each move needs to be down perfectly or it won't flow properly, thus the moves must be learned not as a sequence, but as postures.

Finding someone capable or willing to study in the one on one and step by step manner should be very difficult. The type of student who does well in the class may not do well one on one, and the type of person who does well one on one might not do well in a class.

I believe that this teaching issue has as much as anything to do with why there are millions of people who practice, but what seems like less than one hundred masters alive today.

Conveyor belt approaches lead to a uniform product that has the right shape but lacks the fine craftsmanship of a custom piece.

Custom work alone produces works of art.
It is as true for the sword, as it is for the martial artist.

Friday, March 19, 2010


I've been making a formal review of the basics by watching how they are done by the advanced players of various martial arts, including Taijiquan and Capoeira, which are two parts of the martial art I practice.

I have found some interesting things.
Masters have the basics down perfect, but basically nobody else does. I don't mean master as a formal title, but to note that often senior students are better at their advanced moves than their basics, this is highly unfortunate.

Many newer students can do some advanced moves, but they don't feel at home with the basics. Essentially the simple basic moves should be second nature, they should be effortless and reflexive.

Many students do not perfect their basic moves before moving on to advanced moves. To them the basics are too boring or simple to be worth it.

Let me share with you however that the most advanced moves in martial arts are all basic moves, what makes them advanced is the skill they are employed with.

Lets face it, you aren't going to learn the basics by working on the hard stuff. But honestly, the hard stuff comes with much less effort if the basics are mastered, and I mean mastered; first.

Don't do things with a sloppy feeling, thinking you will get better, often you will only build a bad habit that will not fix itself. If you approach the systems with patience and work on the basics and get them down, the rewards will speak for themselves.

The idea is that the basic moves are a foundation. The better your foundation, the better everything that is built on it is. The more time and work you put into this foundation, the stronger your structure is going to be in the end. However if you skip the foundation and work on the upper stories, then one day you will have to go back down to the basement and fix your foundation, because a strong game in Push Hands (San Shou) or in the Roda comes from having your basics down strong.

I am not even going to go into all that Ginga and Grasp sparrows 'tale' teach, needless to say all of the advanced skills flow from the conditioning of the basic foundations of Capoeira and Taijiquan. Still I am a beginner, so don't take my word for it, go ask your teacher. But if you like friendly contests without animosity, then please come and test your skill and provide me with a lesson.

Friendly Challenges are welcome from players with the same number of years of experience as I. I am a 3 year taijiquan student and a couple of months into Capoeira training.

I am also going to suggest that the skill of a person can be measured by how they perform the basics, and not just the advanced material. If you can't do the basics, then no amount of working harder moves is going to allow you to reach mastery of self or the art you practice.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


My inheritance is found
between Heaven and Earth.

My Taijiquan is not Chinese.
My Capoeira is not Brazilian.
My Natya Yoga is not Indian.
I am not a nationalist,

To be an artist, one makes art
This cannot be done if it is not your own

I am not a traditionalist
I am not preserving culture
I am not concerned with historical accuracy.

I am a child of a new world
That old worlds become
as borders dissolve

A child of Slave and Master
of mixed caste and class

I am a crossroad
I am continents joined
I am a planet united

The identity of mankind
either frail through division
or perfected through unity

the choice is clear enough

It has been said that masters are few
yet systems are common
Systems are but the creation of masters
yet seldom are masters the creation of systems

for the true master innovates
forming themselves anew from the ways of the old
as much new as old
if they try to let the system make them, they fail
mastery is not had by a conveyor belt
no one method works for all people
to obtain mastery one must master self,
self is but identity

The students all try to imitate each other imitating the masters.
The masters imitate none.
the truth of things is clear enough
many people expect the system to do the work for them
but mastery of a system does not result in self mastery
this is the inevitable result for those who do not make the art their own
Skill is not the same as mastery

perfect imitation is still not the same as doing
how many people fail for not having known this?

The student is like a hungry man,
a technique is like a fish
one can give him the fish
and so one can give him the technique
but he will hunger after another
and depend upon being fed
but what of teaching the student to fish?
Teach him the origin of technique
and he will learn to feed himself
this is the difference of mastery
the master does not master technique
it is the source of technique that must be mastered
the source is not a system or a method
look inside yourself to find it

Why does a student practice?
Why does a master practice?

I am already who I am.
I am not learning to become Brazilian
I am not learning to become Chinese.
I am not a nationalist

I take the art and make it my own
bit by bit,
day by day

I do not pretend to improve the art
only myself
bit by bit,
day by day.